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If I'm honest, what initially drew me to this book was the mention of the Children's Laureate, Anthony Browne, on the front cover. He usually writes and illustrates his own work, but here he provides the illustrations only to Annalena McAfee's intriguing and thought-provoking tale about coping with single parents meeting to form new families.
The story is sort of told with the character of Katy as the main focus. She lives with her dad (as a single parent) and her cat, Earl. She visits her mum. Things are comfortable, and McAfee sets the scene of how the routines and luxuries are perfect for Katy. Then her dad meets someone, who is also a single parent, with a boy named Sean who likes practical jokes, and Katy is very uncomfortable with everything.
The story is very easy to read, and really well written to show the feelings and emotions Katy goes through with the newcomers disrupting her life. The words occupy half of the first page of each double spread of the book, with the rest given up to Browne's illustrations. Looking at the artwork actually took me longer than the book, as I found them really involving, and a few were very cleverly detailed to correlate with the opposite part of the story. The colours are quite rich at times, but the drawings, in particular the characters, have a distinct look of hailing from the 1980s at times. There is nothing wrong with this by any means. Browne also manages to incorporate his trademark gorilla character into one beach scene, at the same time as making sure the illustrations are not too self-indulgent, sticking with the story and helping get across the often thought-provoking elements of the tale.
McAfee deals with the issues well, and there is a praiseworthy openness and acceptance of a common family situation in this children's book. It shows that a single parent family can develop and adapt to any situation, and how change can be accepted and not opposed. Sharing her things, her house and her dad is something that Katy finds very hard to do, and it shows just how hard it can be. It also shows how it can also bring positivity and be a good thing, not just an invasion of all things personal.
I do recommend this book. I found it rather enlightening as well as being a well written story. McAfee's story has a very smooth flowing style to it, and it makes it very easy to read out to your child. I read it with my son, and although I was a bit unsure about the subject material should he starts asking questions, I felt it wasn't something that was necessarily a secret. Children's books generally tend to stick to the norm of two parent families and more than one child, but it's nice to see a different approach.
The Visitors Who Came To Stay retails for £9.99 for the hardback copy. I'm unsure if there is a paperback version. It's perhaps more than I would imagine having to pay for a children's book, but it is a very good read. I borrowed it from the local library, so didn't have to worry about the price. However, had I thought about buying it, the price may have put me off. Highly recommended read, though. Great stuff.